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First Backhanded Accounts

August 15, 2010

“A large majority of the white laboring class on the Pacific Coast find more profitable and congenial employment in {other fields}. The greater portion of the laborers employed by us are {X minority}, who constitute a large element in the population of California. Without them it would be impossible to complete {this work}.

As a class they are quiet, peaceable, patient, industrious and economical—ready and apt to learn all the different kinds of work required {}, they soon become as efficient as white laborers. More prudent and economical, they are contented with less wages.”

“It became apparent early in the season, that the amount of labor likely to be required during the summer could only be supplied by the employment of the {minority} element, of our population. Some distrust was at first felt regarding the capacity af this class for the service required, but the experiment has proved eminently successful. They are faithful and industrious, and under proper supervision, soon become skillful in the performance of their duties. Many of them are becoming very expert in {this kind of} work.”

“Systematic workers these {minority members} – competent and wonderfully effective because tireless and unremitting in their industry. Order and industry then, as now, made for accomplishment. Divided into gangs of about 30 men each, they work under the direction of an American foreman. The[y] board themselves. …They are credited with having saved about {$$$} a month. Their workday is from sunrise to sunset, six days in the week. They spend Sunday washing and mending, gambling and smoking, and frequently, old timers will testify, in shrill-toned quarreling. … “

Well, am I making more political statements about the new laws in Arizona? Am I quoting early testimonials about migrant workers in agriculture? Close. These are quotes from, respectively, Leeland Stanford, President, Chief Engineer Montague, and a newspaper account from Alta, California.

They are discussing the building of the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s. The “positive” attributions to how hard working the Chinese laborers are, discussions of how they form their own communities, live cheaply to save money, and also have no problem working for lower wages than the “white laborer” could be distant echoes of how immigration is discussed today. Clearly though from the perspective of those who employ immigrants. That sort of stereotype insult sandwich where they say a few things meant to be nice but with some mean, patronizing or merely ridiculous statements surrounding it. Talking about how “industrious” our immigrants are or how it’s okay that we pay them less for work citizens will not take will not change how history views the situation.

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